Fast Furniture: What It Is & Why It’s a Problem

Fast Furniture: What It Is & Why It’s a Problem

When browsing inspiration for decorating our homes, search results and social feeds inundate us with design-forward photos of chic rooms showcasing the latest interior trends. So it’s pretty normal to envision how these pieces or aesthetics would enhance our own spaces.

And “thanks” to the rise of fast furniture, it’s easier than ever to find options replicating prime Pinterest photos. However, the low cost and convenience of fast furniture comes with some major trade-offs—and when it’s no longer in style, it often ends up replaced by the newest trending thing anyways.

What are the hidden costs and asterisks attached to these low price tags? From its harmful treatment of workers to its detrimental effect on the environment, here’s why fast furniture is a massive problem.

What Is Fast Furniture?

You may have heard a similar term about fast fashion, but this type of rapid production exists in the furniture industry as well. “Fast furniture” is mass-produced furniture made of cheap, low-quality materials that generally don’t last a long time.1

The Rise of Fast Furniture in Consumer Culture

We doubt you’re hearing it from us first, but consumer culture incentivizes a “race to the bottom.” That is, any way to cut costs to increase market competitiveness is seen as a good thing regardless of the effects. Ironically, this causes general consumer harm resulting from poor-quality products and short-sighted business practices.

Simply put, stuff doesn’t function as it should or as long as it should. And that can create serious problems for consumers, whether a chair falls apart while someone sits in it and literally causes injury or individuals’ experience diminishing buying power from constantly replacing furniture.

You might find cheap fast furniture ends up costing more than a higher-quality alternative after you’ve replaced it for the third time.

Fast furniture is a cheap and convenient way to keep up with trending styles. But as trends rise and fall rapidly with the internet these items are quickly thrown away (if they haven’t broken yet). And as furniture continues to be rapidly produced without care for the consequences, it’ll remain easy to find a quick, cheap replacement that continues the harmful cycle.

garbage dump with used broken furniture

The Environmental Impact of Fast Furniture

Poor quality isn’t the only reason fast furniture is a problem. Fast furniture has a significant negative impact on the environment by contributing to landfills, deforestation, and ballooning carbon footprints that all play a part in global climate change.

Waste and Landfill Contributions

Rapid production means that fast furniture is massively overproduced—so much so that one expert estimates most furniture currently occupying landfills came off the production line less than a decade and a half prior. Combine that with all the furniture that quickly breaks because of their cheap materials, or gets replaced during a move because it’s cheap enough, and most of this mass-produced furniture ends up filling landfills at an accelerated rate.2

Resource Consumption and Sustainability Issues

Before fast furniture ends up in landfills, it begins by overconsuming resources and utilizing plastic-based materials that are cheap but not sustainable. The vast consumption of wood, water, and energy contributes to several environmental issues:

  • Deforestation – Fast furniture production sources wood from forests in other countries, depleting these resources, destroying habitats, and disrupting the natural ecosystems in those areas. Trees also combat climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels. By cutting down these forests, fast furniture contributes to global climate change.
  • Ocean contamination – The plastics found in the cheap materials used are non-biodegradable, often polluting the ocean. Also, many fast furniture industries transport their goods overseas. Overseas transportation emits greenhouse gasses and carries the risk of oil and chemical spills.3
  • Burning fossil fuels – Speaking of greenhouse gases, producing fast furniture requires copious amounts of energy. Making and transporting furniture burns an abundance of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

All of these create a massive carbon footprint for the fast furniture industry.

Carbon Footprint of Production and Disposal

A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by our actions. All the energy required to extract materials, manufacture products, and transport items significantly increases the furniture industry’s carbon footprint.

But the carbon emissions don’t stop when production ends. As furniture decomposes in landfills, it produces methane, another type of greenhouse gas.4

Social and Economic Considerations

Good-looking, trendy furniture at a low price seems appealing. However, choosing these options no longer feels ethical when we look at its negative impact on the labor force required to produce these products: low prices come at a cost.

The Cost of Low Prices: Labor and Ethics

Much of the manufacturing of fast furniture occurs overseas, in countries where labor, health, and safety laws are less regulated. This results in many concerning labor practices:

  • Unfair wages – Fast furniture factory workers often receive payments below a livable wage, with the added frustration of delays of up to two months. Sometimes, workers who have not met their daily quota must work overtime without receiving payment for those extra hours.5 This causes severe financial problems for workers, so they’re unable to cover necessities like food and housing.
  • Excessive hours – Working hours can stretch up to at least 72 hours a week, not including mandatory overtime, night shifts, and the cancellation of days off.5 Many workers seek even more hours to compensate for their low salaries.
  • Hazardous conditions – In many of these factories, the internal air quality, loud noises, and high temperatures can make work conditions unbearable. Protective gear isn’t always available, despite many workers’ constant exposure to airborne particles and harmful chemicals, like formaldehyde, that can cause frequent illnesses, respiratory conditions, and even lead to cancer.

The Personal Cost of Fast Furniture

Fast furniture may have a larger impact on the economy and other countries, but it doesn’t affect you, right? Unfortunately, fast furniture can also affect personal finances, health, and safety.

Quality and Longevity Concerns

Fast furniture is produced with cheap, low-quality materials like laminate and particle board. Sometimes, this means your furniture isn’t made of real wood, but synthetic materials made to look like it.

These materials have several disadvantages:

  • They’re weak and can get damaged with handling or heavy loads.
  • Particle board isn’t water resistant and may warp, crack, and expand when exposed to moisture or humidity.
  • They aren’t equipped to handle screwing and unscrewing. Hardware may be more likely to tear through the material or loosen over time.
  • They’re only meant to last up to five years, so fast furniture needs constant replacing. This further crowds landfills and causes consumers to spend more money on replacements.
  • As mentioned above, these cheap, non-sustainable materials can contain toxic chemicals with severe health implications.

Furniture should have the ability to withstand the wear and tear of daily life without worry of damage or health effects.

Health Implications of Cheap Materials

One of the biggest risks concerning fast furniture is that these cheap materials contain harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, and vinyl acetate. Exposure to these chemicals can cause eye irritation, breathing problems, nausea, and cancer.6

While most people don’t have to worry about the small amounts of these chemicals found in fast furniture, it’s always a good idea to avoid these products.

Handcrafted Furniture

Alternatives to Fast Furniture

Despite the popularity of fast furniture, these cheap, low-quality products come with more harm than they’re worth. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives so you can invest in furniture that’s durable, safe, and has a positive impact on the environment and economy.

Investing in Sustainable and Ethical Furniture

Instead of supporting fast furniture brands, make a worthwhile investment into choosing home decor that’s environmentally sustainable and ethically made.

When furniture isn’t mass-produced, artisans dedicate time and care to creating a resilient, beautiful, and functional piece. These smaller furniture brands can pay fair wages, regulate safe and healthy working conditions, and prioritize respectful and ethical working environments.

Tips for Choosing Long-lasting Pieces

Finding long-lasting pieces of furniture doesn’t have to be as tricky or as expensive as it may seem. Here are a few tips for choosing furniture that can last a lifetime:

  • Look for pieces made from real wood. Solid wood furniture is resilient and durable, and if treated well can be passed down for generations.
  • Choose furniture made with superior craftsmanship. Furniture shouldn’t be rushed – products crafted by skilled, well-trained individuals are stylish, functional, and made to last.
  • Support American businesses. Why buy American-made products? By shopping locally, you’re getting furniture made by the expertise of staff that honors the craft and is dedicated to creating durable, high-quality pieces.

Plus, you’ll save money in the long run since you won’t need to buy constant replacements for your furniture.

Handcrafted Furniture

Support American-Made, Handcrafted Furniture by James+James

Fast furniture is an immense issue—clogging landfills, abusing workers, and releasing low-quality, harmful products into the world—but it isn’t too late to do something about it. You can make an impact by turning towards sustainable and ethical alternatives with James+James.

A solution to fast furniture, James+James offers American-made, handcrafted furniture that prioritizes sustainability and feels uniquely you. Made from high-quality lumber, this real-wood furniture combines beauty and functionality to ensure a lifetime of enjoyment for you and your family. Explore our selection of American-made dining tables and more today.


Sources:

  1. Brightmark. Fast Furniture: What it is, Ways to Avoid it, and Ways to Shop Sustainably. https://www.brightmark.com/newsroom/fast-furniture-what-it-is-ways-to-avoid-it-and-ways-to-shop-sustainably
  2. Ashleigh Maier. Environmental Impacts of Fast Furniture. https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/blogs.uoregon.edu/dist/1/17556/files/2021/06/White-Paper_fastfurniture.pdf
  3. TETHYS. Environmental Effects of Marine Transportation. https://tethys.pnnl.gov/publications/environmental-effects-marine-transportation
  4. New York State. Important Things to Know about Landfill Gas. www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/air/landfill_gas.htm
  5. SOMO. Labour Conditions in Ikea’s Supply Chain. https://www.somo.nl/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/Labour-conditions-in-IKEAs-Supply-Chain.pdf
  6. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Formaldehyde in Your Home: What you need to know. www.atsdr.cdc.gov/formaldehyde/home/index.html.

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